A Measured Approach

Combining smart planning with a touch of luck, Farnek's CEO Markus Oberlin shares the secret that will drive the company’s continued success over 2015

Farnek's CEO Markus Oberlin
Farnek's CEO Markus Oberlin

It is hard to argue that Farnek Services had anything but a successful 2014. The full-service property management company consistently made headlines with a number of key contract wins.

Clients such as United Arab Bank, du Telecom and Etihad Airways, found their way into the FM provider’s portfolio. Farnek also managed to garner numerous accolades including fmME’s own Green FM Company of the Year.

What was the reason behind the firm’s bumper year? The answer was simple: “We invested in our company,” says Markus Oberlin, CEO of Farnek.

From his modest office located in the company’s building in the centre of Al Quoz industrial area in Dubai, the Swiss-national outlined the firm’s successful strategy with roots that stretched back almost two years. Composed of smart investments in the business, combined with a pinch of luck, Oberlin explains why Farnek, in its 35th year of operation, is poised to go even further in 2015.

One of the biggest additions to the company’s infrastructure over the last year was the launch of its training academy for soft and hard FM services.

Inaugurated in April 2014, the academy offers weekly courses in a traditional classroom environment, as well as practical seminars conducted in mock training rooms. The mock facilities certify employees on how to clean a variety of surfaces and furniture, as well as familiarise them with the brand’s colour coded system. This essentially differentiates supplies for specific rooms to avoid cross-contamination.

“To satisfy even the most stringent of quality standards in the market, we decided to invest in our employees, by building a state-of-the-art training centre. We train according to international standards, such as the British Institute for Cleaning Science, of which we are now fully compliant,” comments Oberlin.

The training academy also provides Six Sigma training, which was introduced by the British Standard Institute (BSI) in the UK. Farnek’s managers and team leaders were instructed and qualified for black and green belts, a mid-tier level in the Six Sigma certification process. The managers then went on to certify their respective technicians and cleaners on the basic yellow belt level.

“Customers such as EMAAR demand that their properties, such as the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall, are managed by professionals, fully-trained to Six Sigma standards,” explains Oberlin, who adds that the decision to implement Six Sigma training was driven by Farnek’s management.

Subsequently, many companies now demand this as a minimum standard, something Oberlin anticipated.

The program has not only helped Farnek identify and eliminate inefficiencies in its service model, but as a result, the streamlined procedures has made the company more competitive.

Over the past year, Farnek has also invested in its digital services, including the introduction of a web service brought on with the addition of Hitches & Glitches into its portfolio. Incorporated under Farnek’s umbrella in October 2014, the residential maintenance company has been an active operator in the UAE since 2006. Its offerings include a number of cleaning packages, PPM service, and pest control, as well as, energy audits and home improvements.

Partly a branding exercise and partly an internal shift in responsibilities, the inclusion Hitches & Glitches has freed up Farnek to focus solely on its commercial markets and its big accounts.

As the bulk of its experience stemming from domestic services, Hitches & Glitches has been tasked to focus on residential projects. It plans to accomplish this with the introduction of an online service development in part with Farnek. The website gives clients the opportunity to order maintenance services online.

The concept behind the service is simple—identify what service package you want, book it right away, and then pay if off using your credit card. It is a format that Farnek believes will work well with the consumer space.

Building its range of online services, the FM provider has also introduced an internet-based monitoring system to its energy management portfolio. The partly outsourced software, which is developed in collaboration with Switzerland’s SEVITEC, allows users to calculate the carbon emission of their buildings through carbon assessments.

As an added functionality, the software can also be used to oversee waste management within a facility. For example, hotel operators could use the software to measure the amount of waste flow for every guest in the hotel, collectively or individually.

“We are going to further invest in technology. We are developing ways, where we can monitor critical assets, so that we can also have faster reaction times,” explains the CEO.

While Farnek has invested significantly into its training academy and digital offerings, a handful of smart decisions toward its office design have paid off in a way that allowed the company to curb its overall costs.

Throughout 2014, the company began to incorporate a number of sustainable solutions into its 2,500m2 office building. From simple additions, such as a bin-less office scheme, recycling and waste segregation, to more complex additions such as the installation of energy-saving lights and water saving devices in the washrooms, the company has managed to reduce its energy and water consumption significantly.

“We have energy saving modules installed on our own chillers to reduce consumption…after a satisfactory testing period, we can then confidently recommend them to our own customers,” explains Oberlin.

In addition to the main offices, housing and training centre, Farnek’s Al Quoz facility also houses its own garage, which was opened in May 2014. Under the name Excellent Repair, the fully-equipped garage allows the company to service its 200-strong fleet. To generate extra revenue, the company rents out the lower levels to third-party offices and retail stores.

The office building also includes staff housing for 2,000 employees. As real estate and rental prices soared over the last two years, many of the company’s competitors became burdened by rising accommodation costs for their respective workforces. Farnek was able to avoid the rising costs however, as it had secured the contract for the building back in 2012, when the real estate market was down.

As a whole, the combination of investments managed to cut back critical costs, as well as open up opportunities for the FM provider. More importantly however, it has allowed the firm to develop its services in-house without third-party invovlement.

Managing its own training, its own sustainability solutions and its own fleet of vehicles, the additional capital saved gave Farnek enough breathing-space to offer competitive prices. In total, the firm was able to recuce costs by 15 to 20%. It was enough to tip the scales in its favour in 2014.

With 2015 just getting underway, Oberlin is already looking for the next opportunity in the FM market. While there are no plans yet for expansion beyond the confines of the UAE, the FM provider is exploring possibilities to expand its staff accommodations.

In terms of the UAE’s FM market, the CEO expects market demand for high quality facilities management services will increase significantly, as more companies will come to expect the international standard. He also predicts the topic of waste management will become “one of the key drivers” that FM providers need to remain aware of.

“The Dubai Municipality has laid out clear goals. It wants all commercial operators to start separating their waste. It doesn’t want to be faced with mixed common waste. That government pressure will mean that big shopping malls and hotels will have to put a practical waste management strategy in place,” asserts Oberlin.

He also sees the use of reliable centred maintenance or RCM, as becoming common practice across the industry in the years ahead. This technique is the use of measuring equipment such as thermography and vibration measurement on assets to pre-emptively address issues before failure can occur, thus saving on operational and material costs.

Additionally, with expectations for the Expo 2020 calling a for carbon neutral Dubai, FM providers will probably be called upon to deliver carbon neutral services. In the end, it is the demand of the market that will dictate the sector’s evolution.

“For example—Mall of the World—once developed will be almost like a new city. However, having the benefit of the latest international environmental design standards, it will have state-of-the art facilities, creating a whole new benchmark. These new facilities will demand world class FM,” concludes Oberlin.

Company profile: Farnek
Farnek Services, part of the Zurich-based Priora Group, is an international full service property management company. With 35-years of operating in the UAE, the company fostered a reputation operating in of variety of industries including aviation, banking, shopping centres, hospitality, residential and healthcare.

Its services include FM consulting, cleaning, design and build, maintenance and security. A member of the US Green Building Council, Farnek also conducts certifications for sustainability through its exclusive partnership with Green Globe and myclimate. Its portfolio consist of operations across 2,500 properties, including the Burj Khalifa and The Dubai Mall.

Farnek’s client list

Farnek provides FM services to a host of clientele including:
- du Telecom
- United Arab Bank
- Etihad Airways
- Jumeirah Group
- Dubai International Airport
- Al Ghurair Group
- Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts
- Emaar Properties

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